How to ensure reliable power to a crucial cog in the Internet of Things: The network edge

The more we implement Internet of Things (IoT) technology, the more we need to pay attention to power backup strategies – to make sure that valuable IoT data keeps flowing.

Increasingly, IoT data is being funneled from all sorts of sensors, cameras, gauges and other instruments to some sort of intermediary collection point, before it’s shipped off to a centralized computer for processing. At these collection points, which we’ll define as the network edge, data gets aggregated and massaged before being shipped on its way. In this post, I’ll discuss the power protection strategies that are crucial to keeping the network edge up and running.

The exact configuration of network edge components will vary considerably depending on the environment in question. Take a look  at the image below and you’ll see how the scenario varies with different vertical industries.

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Let’s examine a couple of them to illustrate the point, starting with buildings. Many commercial buildings today have building management systems (BMSs) that control elements including the HVAC system, lighting, power, fire alarms and security systems. This is a classic IoT environment because it relies on a small army of sensors and instruments to make it all work.

They include sensors in various rooms to turn lights on and off and adjust the temperature depending on whether the room is occupied. The fire systems include more sensors that detect heat or smoke and monitor CO2 levels. Security systems include cameras that constantly take video of key areas. You get the idea.

In this example, the network edge may include wiring closets on each building floor that house network switches and perhaps servers that collect data from all of these sensors and other devices, and feed them up the chain to a central location. In a campus environment comprising a number of buildings, the edge may also include a small server room in each building where data is collected and sent to a central aggregation point serving the entire campus.

Retail establishments, whether a restaurant chain or store, will have a network edge component in each location, collecting data from point-of-sale devices to feed to inventory systems, for example. For energy companies such as an electric utility, the edge may be the various substations from where electricity is distributed to end points on the grid. A city will need various network edge locations for subsystems that control everything from street lights to public safety networks for police and fire departments.

In each case, all the networking equipment and servers in these edge locations need to be protected with a UPS. The UPS should be sized such that, in the event of a power outage, crucial systems stay up and running long enough to protect whatever data they’ve collected (meaning gracefully shut down or pass it up the chain). Other systems, such as lighting in a commercial building, may need to stay up to ensure some minimum number of emergency lights are available.

It takes a comprehensive review of the specific environment to not only identify all these edge locations, but come up with a plan to protect them. In many instances, you’ll find that a single strategically located UPS can protect a number of edge locations. Others will need their own.

But the IoT is too important to leave such power protection decisions to chance or to just hope for the best. If you’re not sure how to conduct a comprehensive risk assessment on your own, we’ve got experts who can help – click here get in touch.

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